The European Commission excluded major French ports from a post-Brexit redesign of a major trade corridor because they dont have regular shipping links with Ireland, a Commission official told POLITICO.
France is pushing back against plans to realign the EUs North Sea-Mediterranean corridor to connect Dublin and Cork with the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp and the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, adopted by the Commission on August 1.
French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne on Sunday tweeted that “the maritime connection between Ireland and France is an obvious one,” adding that the plan “must be reviewed.” French ports campaigned heavily in favor of being included in the route and are geographically closer to Ireland than the Benelux ports.
“The Commission proposal is based on the current transport flows,” said a Commission spokesman. “It makes an adjustment to the corridor to ensure continuity of these traffic flows, which mainly go through certain core ports.”
There are currently no regular maritime connections between Irelands main ports at Cork and Dublin and French terminals, but services do run to Rotterdam and Antwerp and between Dublin and Zeebrugge, the spokesman said.
A representative of Brittany Ferries said it runs a direct freight route from Cork to Roscoff once a week. Irish Ferries said it runs a weekly service from Dublin to Cherbourg, as well as services from Rosslare to Roscoff and Cherbourg every two days.
The Commission said Roscoff and Cherbourg were too small to be included in an EU priority corridor.
Borne last week wrote a letter to Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc calling for a rethink.
With the majority of Irelands trade passing through Britain, the new route is designed to save Irish exporters from having their food and produce held up in post-Brexit customs checks, by building up a new sea route that bypasses the U.K. It will also remove British ports from the Commissions priority transport route, which establishes which facilities are eligible for EU funds.
The existing route runs from Edinburgh and Dublin down to Marseille. Calais, along with the Dunkirk and Le Havre ports, are already listed in the North Sea-Mediterranean corridor and so can continue to receive cash from the EUs flagship infrastructure funding program, the Connecting Europe Facility.
Other French ports that are not listed in the corridor — including Brest along with Roscoff and Cherbourg — can still seek funding from smaller programs aimed to support a “Motorways of the Sea” initiative, the Commission spokesman said.
The Commissions plan is open for feedback until September 26 and both the European Parliament and Council of the EU must sign off before the revised route is set in place.
Gilles Pargneaux, a Socialist MEP representing the northwest France region including both Calais and Dunkirk, said the Commissions proposal “will lead to unacceptable imbalances” and vowed to fight the plan in Parliament.
“The proposed route … will contribute to a concentration of flows on the Belgian and Dutch ports while depriving Ireland of alternatives while the ports of northwest France are much closer,” said Pargneaux.